Education in the Internet-Age

When I log onto a computer, I am instantly traveling at vertigo-inducing speeds on the information super-highway. The world opens at my fingertips in ways I could only have imagined even a few years ago. As a dedicated student and lifelong learner, I leverage this access almost every day. I hopscotch back and forth; from my university’s online learning portals, to an email account, to social media, and to several research websites available through the college library. On each site, I explore, I learn—the vastness of the information sea challenges the limits of my understanding. As the circle of my knowledge grows, so does the circle of the unknown with which I am in contact. The universe expands to dizzying heights and compelling vistas—I am agog with the possibilities.
As I grow in my student career, I find that I am often utilizing sources other than the traditional, physical, paper-based sources. Much as I appreciate the sensual experience of sitting down with an actual book, reality dictates that I spend hours at the computer screen in addition to the hours I spend curled up with paperbacks, hardbacks, textbooks, pocket editions…books! As I broaden the mediums through which I access textual content, I notice that there are differences in the ways in which I perceive and remember the information. On a computer screen, the experience seems more disconnected, less oriented in physical reality. The sheer overwhelming amount of available information engenders a feeling of unreality, as of swimming in the middle of the Atlantic. Although I know that there must be a shoreline—a boundary, a limit—out there somewhere, I am unable to see it.
In the Atlantic of possibilities opening around me, I need to focus on pursuing a narrow area of research—though even that becomes difficult given my penchant for integrating widely disparate sources and opposing viewpoints. For example, as I pursued the elusive connections between the philosophy of the Greek philosopher Epicurus and modern nursing theory and practice, I found valuable resources in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in several online collections of essays, and in commercially available resources for students. I read far more than I could possibly include in the paper, and I struggled mightily to condense what I did use into a coherent narrative that told the story I was telling—and no more. This is in welcome contrast to the era when my research was limited to physical books, when I often struggled to find a respectable number of reputable sources. Despite the messiness, I am glad to have the problem of over-abundance rather than famine.
This very over-abundance hints at problems that are specific to this era. Never before have junior scholars had so many sources of information available to them, and never before have there been so many sources of inaccurate or incomplete information. As I browse online, my baloney-radar is on full alert; tossing out the sources—and there are many!—that do not pass the sniff test. The information age has taught me to become skeptical, doubtful of unproven veracity.
My recently completed exploration has combined learning opportunities and in-depth research utilizing a variety of sources. I particularly appreciated having off-campus access to ProQuest’s database of academic papers and articles. When a key source withdrew permission-to-quote the day before the paper deadline, I needed to find an alternate scholarly source quickly. Through the off-campus access portal, I was able to find an article in a reputable academic journal. I then integrated the source into my paper. Indeed, the paper is stronger for the late addition, which would not have been possible if I had not had access to the ProQuest database. As I completed the paper, and handed it in—on time!—I was grateful for the readily available technology that permitted me to search the entire world with a few keystrokes. Truly, the Internet has opened a universe for my use.

Endless vistas....

Endless vistas….